Top 5 K-Content Korean startups looking to hit the ‘unicorn’ status

Although 2020 has been a brutal year in many respects, it has been a big year for the Korean startup ecosystem. Aprogen pharmaceuticals became the 11th unicorn startup company in South Korea according to CB insights. The latest addition to unicorn companies has placed Korea in sixth place behind Germany and 11 unicorn companies.

For a privately owned startup to qualify as a unicorn company, they need to have a valuation of over $1 billion and have a valuation of over $10 billion to be eligible as a “decacorn” company. Given the rising number of unicorn companies supported by Korea’s robust mobile infrastructure, government support, and venture boom, Korea could have 20 unicorn companies by 2022 and even one “decacorn” company.

Koreatechdesk.com has compiled a list of 5 Korean startups or K-content startups looking to join the billionaires club based on their market valuation, scalability, funding, and product innovation.

1) Smart Study
Smart Study is a Korean EdTech startup best known for its educational hit Pinkfong and baby shark song, which has over 4.6 billion views on YouTube. The company has become successful in Korea and in the United States, where they plan to go public this year. Since its inception in 2010, the startup has produced dozens of educational videos featuring characters in different languages.

Smart Study’s Pinkfong and baby shark story.

The startup prioritizes the consumer’s ease of accessing its content with its educational videos being made available through their mobile app or on YouTube. However, the startup’s success isn’t limited to YouTube and its mobile app; its hit song took over the Washington Nationals home in the 2019 Major League Baseball season and at the World series. The startup’s sales have similarly soared from $ 40 billion in 2018 to $ 60 billion last year.

Smart Study plans to be the Pixar of South Korea by launching an animated TV series of their Pinkfong characters. Also, the startup plans to launch its movie version of their hit song ‘Baby Shark’ in 2020. The company’s majority shareholder is Kim Min-Seok, who owns 23% of the company; his family owns 63% of the company, while Samsung Publishing owns 21%.

2) Radish
Radish is a serialized mobile storytelling platform where one can support their favorite author, and the authors earn a commission. Radish has been described as the equivalent of addictive TV shows due to their bite-sized instalments of stories offered in an episodic method, much like TV series.

Radish describes its mobile app as an update of the Victorian ideal of the serialized novel. From the app, readers can access multiple novel categories such as fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, romance, etc. The authors write an episode and get instant feedback before writing the next piece, thus ensuring the content satisfies their readers and encourages the writers to write better content.

Radish – the storytelling platform.

Customers access episodes through buying coins, and then the company divides its sales with the episode’s author. The app has over 7,000 stories and 1000 authors, with the highest-paid author earning $15,000 per month.

The Radish app has enjoyed astounding success in Japan and China but now seeks to expand to Europe and the USA. In 2019 it announced the launch of Radish Originals in the USA and had hired 6 of television’s most celebrated Emmy Award-winning soap opera writers to write for the platform. Radish has strong backing from Silicon Valley investors that include Greylock, Lowercase, Softbank, UTA, Bertelsmann, and Sherpa Capital. It’s also supported by individual investors such as Amy Tan, ITV Chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette; Charlie Songhurst, who was the former head of corporate strategy at Microsoft; and billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen. The company aims to build an iconic multimedia presence and change how we write and read stories.

3) HyperConnect
HyperConnect’s bid to join the unicorn club comes as no surprise. The Korean based startup has been successful from its inception in 2014 with the startup seeking to connect the world through its WebRTC, a real-time video communication technology. The startup was founded by Sang-il Ahn, Kang-Sik Jung, and Hyun-tek Yong. The company enjoys massive support from the Silicon Valley, with Alto and SoftBank Ventures contributing the majority of its $8.6 million Series B funding.

According to Han Kim, the CEO of Alto Ventures, the startup shows excellent potential in connecting people in real-time. In just five years, the startup has grown to over 30 times its expected size and has recorded massive sales increases of 71.4% each year.

The startup’s premier product Azar aims to connect people in real-time using their shared interest for unique chatting experiences beyond the confines of nationality, religion, and social class. It has over 300 million downloads, 80 billion matches, and is available in over 130 nations. It ranked 4th in Europe’s 2019 top revenue earning app after YouTube, Netflix, and Tinder. HyperConnect intends to add more features to its Azar app and create new products to connect people from all corners of the world. Its sales stood at $91 million last year from $62 million, with its net-profits jumping to $14 million.

4) Tapas
Tapas debuted in 2013 as a Korean Webcomic company and has grown to have over 3 million active users and a library of 82 000 webcomic stories. Much like Radish, the startup distributes its comics in bite-sized episodes formatted for vertical scrolling by smartphone users.

Tapas offers a wide range of comic story genres ranging from sci-fi and fantasy to romance and mystery. It has prose novels and stories but seeks to expand to more lucrative areas such as video games and printed books. The company’s CEO, Chang Kim, describes the startup as YouTube for Comics, with the company having over four billion-episode views in 2019. The startup aims to empower creators and serve its young readers with 3-5-minute chunks of entertaining content each day.

“One of the things we provide is editorial support. There are a lot of talented young creators emerging from our community with great ideas. We can help them develop those into stories, help them with technical issues, and provide them with new opportunities.” Said Chang Kim, CEO of Tapas to media.
Creators post on the site for free and split the sales from their story views with the company. Tapas creators earn a monthly stipend of as much as $21,000 in exchange for Tapas having a 50% stake in their IP ownership.

5) Mykoon
Mykoon is the creator of Spoon Radio, a real-time radio broadcast service that allows its users to share stories, ideas, favorite music, and more on the app. The service will enable people to truly connect and share their thoughts and ideas with others every day, real-life issues like relationships and money.

Users can listen to their personalized content and or create their broadcast. The company was valued at $727 million last year, but with the increased use of its products, it should reach unicorn status this year.

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